05 April 2012


MackAndTimz Ursa Major (1997-2012)

This morning, our beautiful lab Ursa went back to where all things come from.

She was, to us at least, a most extraordinary dog. Athletic, energetic, obedient, communicative: a valued companion. We got her from a local woman who had bred her female. When we went to pick out the one we wanted, Ursa was the sleepiest, least energetic, most independent one of the litter. (If you know anything about labs, you know why we were looking for the least energetic pup.) She rolled over on her back and let us rub her belly that day, a couple of weeks before we picked her up. At some point, she got up, climbed over a 2x8 that separated the pups' space from the rest of the room, and went to sleep.

I'm sure we played with some others of that litter that day, but she had already won our hearts. We picked her up on New Year's Eve, 1997, and brought her back to the house we had bought less than a year before. She quickly met our cat, Tom, who showed her who was the boss.

During her early years, when we lived in Memphis, she had a big back yard with lots of trees and levels to play in. We'd play with her every morning in the front yard, though, because it had fewer obstructions. She was—aren't all labs—a ball nut. We'd throw the ball for her to retrieve, but when she got too hot, she'd run to the back yard, where there was a kiddie pool full of water for her.

After we moved to the beachside in Daytona Beach, the play usually took place at the nearby park. There, we learned that, yes, she would play until she dropped.

I never measured her vocabulary, but I don't doubt that it was substantial. She knew a variety of commands and other words; "biscuit" was known to cause drooling. "Get in your house" meant get in the crate, a trick one of Mack's friends' daughters taught her, not the weekened that Ursa and their Dalmation with liver spots, Dexter, destroyed the pillows that were attacking them while no one else was at home. In our house, she did once eat an entire avocado, leaving a perfectly clean pit, and she did once steal an entire sandwich that I had just made, grabbing it off the kitchen counter.

I think my favorite memory of her is the night when we were still living in Memphis, and I was chasing her around the house with a "rat tail" (towel, rolled to a stinging point), snapping at her butt and chasing her around the house. At some point, she turned, coming back at me no-holds-barred, hunting the hunter. After that, it was really difficult to snap her butt with a towel.

Oh she was a good dog. She would balance a dog biscuit on her nose until drool was pouring out both sides of her mouth; as soon as you said "okay", she would toss the biscuit in the air and grab it with her mouth. Yes, lots of other dogs can do this. But did they catch ice in the mouth?

I guess like any lab, she loved to be in the water. However, Ursa would alway poop as soon as she got in the water. So Mack, usually, would be trying to recover dog turds out of the lake, bay, ocean, wherever we were able to play with her in the water. We always enjoyed meeting up with Mack's sister Tammy, her husband The Other Tim Wilson, and their dogs at Seagrove Beach on the Florida panhandle (where the picture above was taken).

We noticed her slowing down a couple of years ago. She was really showing signs of what we thought was arthritis: slowness getting up, trouble moving, a lack of coordination jumping up into the car. We went on a road trip to my mom's family's reunion on Sand Mountain in northeast Alabama in June 2010, and it was really a struggle. We'd have to pick her up to put her in and get her out of the car. She was falling down walking along the shore of a pond at my cousin's. A couple of months after that, I was on travel, and Mack called me to say he thought we were going to have to put her down. She was in great pain, and she was having the hardest time getting up.

We took her to the vet, and it turned out that it wasn't arthritis and it wasn't hip displasia: it was bone spurs and fused vertebrae. The years of athletic living had given her an incredibly strong heart, but they had taken their toll in the rolling and tumbling. So the nerves in her spinal column weren't working as they should. The vet—and I was worried when our local vet went to the VCA chain, but that turned out to be unfounded worry—prescribed an anti-inflamatory, and within a few days, she was back to getting around okay.

But the glory days had passed. There would be no more "play with the ball?" or throwing the kong. Over the next year and almost a half, her morning walk, which at one time had been a vigorous walk with a hard play stop around a block that had at least 100 feet of elevation change, became shorter and shorter. Instead of the full block, just up to the top of the hill and back. Then part way up. Then around the corner by a couple of houses. We also had accepted that she wouldn't be going to the dog park anymore. And the pooping inside had become more frequent.

The last week or so, she has declined quickly. She still was eating well, and she still wanted to go through the routine of walk after breakfast. But eating might take her an hour—she'd take lots of breaks—when it used to take three minutes. Her ability to control her back legs was worsening quickly.

We took her in to the vet this morning and petted her as her life left her.

She was a wonderful dog, and we are both lucky that she was a part of our lives. She kept love, energy, excitement, and the joy of life around us, even when we were too tired or stupid or worn out to realize what mattered. It's going to be rough without her, but the quality of her life was nowhere near where it once had been, and was only going to get worse.

We loved this dog something terrible, and we are going to miss her something awful. But we are sure glad we spent a big portion of our lives with her.


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